JRA woman who drives women empowerment
Ntombi Ngwenya is your to-go-to person when it comes to issues surrounding entrepreneur empowerment within the Johannesburg Roads Agency (JRA), the City of Johannesburg’s roads and storm water infrastructure development and maintenance entity.
As Head of JRA’s SMMEs Development Desk, Ngwenya has for the past three years been at the forefront of the entity’s interventions to create opportunities for previously marginalised groups, particularly women, to reduce poverty, inequality and unemployment in some of the city’s disadvantaged communities, and to help create prosperous societies.
When Ngwenya talks about women empowerment and why it is important for women to be knowledgeable, she oozes passion. Ever since she was charged with this responsibility, Ngwenya has channelled all her energy to turning around the lives of people, especially women, who were previously deprived of economic opportunities.
There was no template when the desk was established in 2013, so Ngwenya – who has been with JRA for the past six years – had to improvise to get the mission off the ground. She visited other roads agencies in the country to study and see how they supported entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.
“There was no structure in place to quantify our work. We visited our counterparts in KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo to learn and understand from their work,” said Ngwenya.
After the establishment of the desk, she and her team embarked on a series of roadshows, visiting all the City’s seven regions with the aim of creating a database of SMMEs involved in the roads and storm water infrastructure arena.
“The main challenges we encountered from entrepreneurs was a lack of business management skills, technical functionality and funding. Women weren’t participating at all. The stats were shocking. This was when I began to understand and appreciate the struggles that women were going through. This gave me insight into the hardships that these mothers and wives endured daily. As an entrepreneur myself, this experience was an eye-opener."
"We began to talk to one another. I shared with them my own story and why I do what I do. I sat and listened to painful stories. One lady told me she was in the construction business to put food on the table. Another told me her husband had lost his job. You have to understand where they are coming from. That’s when we as a desk decided to set up programmes to educate women about opportunities in the roads construction and maintenance space.”
The desk has now been fully capacitated to ensure support for SMMEs in aspects such as business management, tendering and accessing finance. Ngwenya from time to time conducts workshops on tendering on an ad hoc basis and ensures that projects awarded to entrepreneurs are delivered effectively and on time.
She also manages and resolves issues encountered by the SMMEs.
Speaking at the height of the 60th anniversary of National Women’s Month, during which women throughout South African reflected on the bravery and determination of the 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 to demand equal rights, Ngwenya said for total women emancipation to be realised, access to economic opportunities for women must be on top of the agenda.
In the 2015-2016 financial year, 40 women-owned enterprises in the construction sector benefited to the tune of R15.4-million from programmes of the SMMEs Development Desk. Going forward, the desk has identified a number of small-scale construction projects, valued at R2-million each, to be specifically executed by women
“Women need knowledge. I hope to get a bigger budget in the 2017-2018 financial year to increasingly focus on women development. Once women are empowered they can then compete in this jungle,” she emphasised.